Nobody wants to be in a situation where they have to hire a lawyer. Unfortunately, most people will seek legal counsel at some point in our lives. And when that time comes for you, you’ll need to find a way to afford your legal fees.
Legal fees add up quickly, and rates depend on where you live and your lawyer’s experience. Let’s go over the types of fees you can expect to pay, and how to finance those fees.
Types of legal fees
The most common type of fee from a lawyer is an hourly rate, which can vary widely between lawyers. According to Lawyers.com, the average rate for a lawyer in a smaller town will likely run from $100 to $200 per hour. In larger cities, rates run from $200 to $400.
Remember, a lower rate isn’t necessarily cheaper. A more expensive lawyer may be able to spend fewer hours on your case to achieve the same result. Make sure you have a consultation with your lawyer beforehand and ask for an estimate of how many hours they expect to spend on your case.
Flat fees are only offered for uncomplicated procedural transactions, like setting up a will. When offered, they’re a great option that lets you know exactly what kind of expense you’re getting into.
If you’re paying a contingency fee, there will be no upfront charge, but the lawyer will earn a percentage of your settlement. This payment method is commonly used in personal injury cases.
Retainer fees are put in a special account by the client. The lawyer deducts fees from this account as needed, and at the end of the case, the remaining balance returns to the client.
Some legal work requires the court to set or approve a fee ahead of time. This is called a statutory fee.
How do people pay for attorney fees?
Practicing attorney Jill Stanley offers eight ways you could consider paying your legal fees.
Negotiate a contingency fee
“First, I suggest negotiating with the lawyer whom you want to represent you to inquire whether they would consider taking the case on a contingency fee basis,” advises Stanley.
“With a contingency fee structure, the client does not pay attorney’s fees out of pocket,” she adds. “Rather, the fees are paid from any settlement or verdict the attorney secures on the client’s behalf.”
This means if you don’t win your case, you pay nothing, and if you win your case, you only lose a chunk of your winnings.
Negotiate pro bono (for high profile cases)
Stanley says, “If the legal issue is one that would garner a lot of press, the lawyer might take the case for pro bono.
This is not always done solely out of the goodness of their own heart or for a compelling public interest (these may be factors they considers). Lawyers often do this because the exposure would benefit them in other ways.”
Raise funds online
In today’s digital world, Stanley says you might consider an online fundraising campaign, such as gofundme.com, to raise money to pay attorneys fees. Alternately, your lawyer might post a fundraising campaign for your case.
Stanley says, “Recently I have seen a well-known lawyer post a fundraising campaign on her own law firm website to help pay for a client’s legal fees.
This could be because the firm is particularly interested in the matter, but cannot shoulder the entire financial burden.”
Set up a payment plan
Stanley says some lawyers might consider a payment plan for the right case and the right client.
Rather than paying your legal fees upfront, you’ll spread out the payments over time. While you may still have to pay some money up front, the plan will considerably reduce the amount.
Secure a statute that awards fees
Sometimes, a win in court determines that your attorney’s fees will be paid by the opposing party. It depends on the type of case.
Stanley explains, “For example, in a Consumer Protection Act matter, the party found to be at fault can be ordered by the court to pay the prevailing party’s attorneys fees. If a lawyer feels the client has a very strong case and it is based on a statute that allows for attorney’s fee, then this is another option.”
Use a credit card
Jim Hacking, owner of Hacking Law Practice, LLC in St. Louis, MO says most lawyers will accept credit cards for legal fees.
Ask for help
Hacking also suggests asking family members to help. It can be tricky asking for a loan or help from family, but if you’re in a legal bind, it may become necessary.
Apply for a personal loan
As with any large expense, you can finance your legal fees with a personal loan. However, you’ll need an above-average credit score. You can seek out a personal loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender. Check out Super money’s personal loans review page to get started.
What’s the best option?
Stanley says she recommends the contingency option, though this isn’t available in all types of legal matters. “Clearly, there is no option for a contingency fee arrangement in a criminal matter,” she explains.
Hackey recommends setting up a payment plan with your attorney.
Immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci of the firm Rambana & Ricci, PLLC recommends seeking the attorney best suited for your legal needs, being transparent about finances, and requesting help.
“If the attorney can’t take the case pro bono (at no charge), they may be able to make recommendations that you can do on your own or refer you to a qualified attorney who is not as expensive,” Ricci says.
Remember, not every lawyer is right for every client. And not every client is right for every lawyer. “Find a lawyer that you are comfortable with,” Hackey says. “If the lawyer isn’t flexible, maybe you want to think about finding another. Shop around until you find one that you like.”
You may want to start by seeing if you pre-qualify for a personal loan. This can serve as a backup financing option if all other options fall through.
With SuperMoney, you can receive personalized, pre-qualified offers from top lenders without hurting your credit score. You can also compare these offers (plus many more) side by side to find the best option for you.